You’ve made it to Mexico! Hooray!
The plane ride’s over, the bags are in the room, the flip flops are on and you’re heading to the beach. It’s time to get ready for your first truly authentic Mexican experience.
“Amigo, you like this hat?”
While our own beach happens to be completely void of vendors (oh…the peace), you’re still likely to encounter these lively folk if you venture to nearby Sayulita, the Tianguis Market in La Penita, or even the sleepy adjacent beachfront town of Platanitos.
If for some reason that crystalline sculpture of 3 dolphins jumping over a prism rainbow at sunset is calling to you, you’ll want to learn to barter. Here are 7 tips to keep you bartering (or more appropriately, bargaining) with the best of ‘em.
# 1: Know your company.
As much as they’d like you to think otherwise, it’s rare that these vendors labor over the creation of their merchandise.
The vast majority are retailers simply selling from a huge stock of wholesale, warehouse-produced goods. They depend on your money for their livelihood, but they certainly don’t need or expect the initial prices they ask for. They expect and respect your haggling spirit. They’re used to interacting with people and will almost always have a smile on their faces. Mirror their charm, share a smile, and prepare to start in!
#2: Know your goods
We realize you might not have the BEST idea what the world’s largest sombrero goes for these days, but if you really want one, try your best to get a rough idea.
Look in nearby stores for similar items, see what you can get other vendors to agree to, ask your friends what they paid (then prepare to amaze with your bargaining prowess!)
#3: Start lower than you want to pay.
This is PROBABLY obvious, but you’d be surprised the temptation to just blurt out what you’re hoping to pay….resist! Start low, you’ll likely need to move up at least a little bit. If you don’t have a good feel for what the item is really worth, starting around 50% of the asking price is probably a good bet.
An experienced vendor will start in on his acting routine and attempt to make you feel bad for offering so little. Don’t worry, they aren’t upset, they’re excited that they have your interest and are looking forward to a sale.
#4: Harness that excitement!
It’s OK to show some interest in the goods, but don’t come running across the sand exclaiming “OMG, OMG, they have a bone-carved replica of Predator from the 1987 hit film by the same name!”, Don’t do that. That’ll likely scare off anybody in the vicinity that understands English. It’ll also greatly reduce your chances of a good bargain.
If you really want that…
…passively inquire. Ask for prices on a variety of items to spread out your perceived interest.
#5: Always walk away once
If you want to see the absolute lowest price; stand your ground after showing some interest, then slowly walk away. You’ll be amazed at the rapid, price-dropping effect this has. It’ll take some practice, but once perfected it’s one of the best techniques to ensure a great deal.
If they don’t go as low as you want don’t worry. Lucky for you, many vendors sell the same items. Try again further down the beach and use the pricing itel you just learned.
#6: Don’t shop where the suckers shop
Often times it’s not that a vendor is unhappy with your offer…it’s just that he knows there’s an endless supply of suckers coming along behind you willing to pay more.
As a general rule: The further from the airport you travel, the cheaper your goods will be. The beaches of Puerto Vallarta will be the most expensive. Sayulita is a little cheaper, La Penita better still, Platanitos and San Blas have the best deals.
#7: Buy multiple things
Your beach vendor sells that articulating, chrome-plated fish creation on its own multiple times a day. He knows exactly the price he can get. However, if you add on 2 blankets, 4 painted bowls, a box of fake Cuban cigars and 3 cutting boards it’s going to be harder to know what somebody else would pay. On top of that, you’ll likely get a built-in discount for buying bulk and suddenly becoming his favorite customer.
Practice a few times with cheap goods, do your research, then win the favor of all your friends and family as you come home the souvenir bargaining master.
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